Toyota Gazoo Racing’s GR010 HYBRIDs led the way in the first of four FIA WEC Prologue test sessions at a sunny and hot Sebring.
The highly-experienced Japanese factory team, which has the most tried and tested car in the new-look Hypercar class, set the pace as the WEC’s class of 2023 shared a track together for the first time.
Jose Maria Lopez was the quickest of the Toyotas, setting a 1m48.208s in the No. 7, marginally faster than the sister No. 8 which also ended up in the 1:48.2s. The cars completed 70 and 64 laps respectively.
The Cadillac Racing V-Series.R trailed the two Toyotas, piloted by Richard Westbrook, with a best time of 1m49.253s, having completed 44 laps.
Completing the top five in the running order was the No. 5 Porsche 963 at 1m49.650s and the No. 51 Ferrari 499P which toured the airfield circuit in 1m49.724s. Both cars completed an encouraging 60-plus laps.
Lower down the order, the pair of Peugeots both set times 2s off the ultimate pace, while the Glickenhaus and Vanwall were — perhaps unsurprisingly — the slowest in the category, mixed in amongst the LMP2s on ultimate pace.
The Vanwall Vandervell’s best time was a 1m52.410s, 4s off the pace. Notably, 1997 Formula 1 World Champion Jacques Villenueve — in his first WEC session with limited time spent in the Vanwall prior to this weekend — could only manage a 1m59.272s, making him the slowest driver in the class and only marginally quicker than the best GTE Am times.
In LMP2, United Autosports’ No. 22 ORECA made a fast start to the season. Phil Hanson set the best time in the all-ORECA field — a 1m51.722s. Behind, the only other car setting a time under the 1m52s was the No. 41 WRT ORECA.
Hertz Team JOTA’s No. 48 completed the top three, with a time good enough to finish higher up the order than the Glickenhaus and Vanwall.
GTE Am, meanwhile, saw the Iron Dames Porsche lead the way. Michelle Gatting emerged fastest with a 1m59.913s; the top three all managing times under two minutes. The sister Iron Lynx Porsche ended up second, driven by Alessio Picariello. The fastest Ferrari completed the top three thanks to a quick time from former AF Corse GTE Pro regular Davide Rigon.
Of the other two brands in the class, Corvette’s C8.R ended up fifth with the three Aston Martin Vantage AMRs occupying the bottom three positions in the class.
Northwest AMR’s No. 98 Aston Martin — the only car in the field without a complete driver line-up — was driven by Axel Jeffries in the session. The Zimbabwean driver is testing for the team as they evaluate whether he or Thomas Merrill will take the third seat alongside Paul Dalla Lana and Nicki Thiim. Jeffries’ best time was just a tenth off Thiim’s quickest lap. Merrill is set to drive the car tomorrow.
Merrill wasn’t the only driver here for the Prologue who didn’t take part in the session. Five Hypercar drivers didn’t head out of the pit lane: Alex Lynn, Esteban Guerrieri, Michael Christensen, Kevin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor.
Stefano Costantini also didn’t get behind the wheel of the No. 21 AF Corse Ferrari.
During the session, race control opted to trial a number of procedures including a safety car period and red flag stoppage. Beyond a handful of minor offs, there were no major dramas.